BROOKLYN –The college basketball hype machine has little use for four-year seniors that incrementally improve each season.
This year, the headlines have been dominated by freshmen, an astounding nine of which are expected to be taken among the first ten picks in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Michael Porter, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter, Collin Sexton, Kevin Knox and Trae Young might be getting all the love from the national media and pro scouts, but the beautiful thing as we wrap the conference tournaments and slide into March Madness, at least to me, is watching the role players that have paid their dues over the years.
So in Friday night’s ACC Tournament semifinals matchups at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, take a moment to appreciate a senior that exemplifies the true beauty of the college game – North Carolina’s Theo Pinson.
Theo Pinson was a force to be reckoned with down the stretch for the Tar Heels, leading Carolina to an 82-65 win over Miami in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
While the Tar Heels’ main offensive weapons, Joel Berry and Luke Maye, couldn’t throw a rock into the ocean against the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night, Pinson scored a career-high 25 points and snagged 11 rebounds, lifting his squad to an 82-65 win to set up a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference semifinal matchup against Duke.
“It’s a big-time game,” Pinson said in looking forward to tonight’s matchup against the Blue Devils. “I mean, everybody and their mama going to be watching the game…, everybody knows that. Going to be ready. My teammates are going to be ready.”
Pinson erupted for 10 points during a three-and-a-half minute second half stretch, punctuated by a corner 3 and an ensuing dribble-sprint that sliced the Miami press to pieces before ramming down a vicious dunk that forced the Tar Heel faithful out of their seats.
North Carolina senior Theo Pinson had a monster game against Miami, including a massive two-handed slam that brought the Barclays Center to its feet. Pinson flew to the lane and dropped the hammer, an ACC Must See Moment.
The defending national champions depend on Pinson as much as they do Berry and Maye, and the 6-foot-6 senior from Greensboro is the underappreciated the engine that makes UNC machine hum.
Pinson might not always hit big 3’s and he won’t always score in abundance, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife that stuffs the stat sheet and contributes to victories in ways that the casual fan will never understand. The small forward leads the Tar Heels in assists and is the squad’s second-leading rebounder, in addition to chipping in with 10.6 points per game.
His length, defense and vision have been a major part of UNC’s success over the last few years. His ability to guard the post and on the perimeter have been invaluable.
When he arrived in Chapel Hill as a McDonald’s and Brand Jordan All-American, the expectations placed on him were unrealistic. Some labeled him a bust after a freshman year where he averaged three points and three rebounds per game.
But not every prep All-American is a one-and-done prospect. Folks forget that for some, it takes time to learn, grown and mature as a college player.
And now in his senior year, Pinson is flourishing.
North Carolina forward Theo Pinson put the exclamation point on the Tar Heels’ 82-78 win over arch-rival Duke Thursday night. Pinson took a pass and slammed home a two-handed flush to put Carolina up 7 with under :20 seconds to play. The dunk sealed a huge win and delivered another ACC Must See Moment.
UNC’s 2016 squad that lost in the national championship was Brice Johnson and Marcus Paiges team. Last year’s title team belonged to Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry. This year, Pinson, Berry and Maye are carrying the torch of leadership and excellence.
And over the last few weeks, Pinson has been North Carolina’s best player. You can call him a sparkplug, a glue guy or an energy guy. But what he truly brings to the table is effort, heart and basketball intellect.
Pay attention, and you’ll see him diving on the floor for loose balls, playing a vicious brand of defense and doing the little things that are big-time ingredients in UNC’s great success.
He’s paid his dues over the years, improving each season. And now, he’s elevated out of his status as a role player and into the role of a featured star.
Watch senior Theo Pinson address the Smith Center crowd after his final game in Chapel Hill.
Pinson is playing the best, most confident basketball of his college career thus far, and it could not have come at a better time.
As he takes his farewell tour in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, don’t be surprised to see him take one more step up the ladder, where he could be this year’s Tar Heel March Madness hero.